Comfortable and Furious

The Caine Mutiny: A Novel & Two Movies

The Caine Mutiny, a 1952 novel by Herman Wouk

The Caine Mutiny, a 1954 movie, directed by Edward Dmytryk 

The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial 2023 ,directed by William Friedkin

It is worth noting the original 1954 Broadway production was directed by Charles Laughton 

Cast: Henry Fonda as Barney Greenwald, John Hodiak as Steve Maryk, Lloyd Nolan as Queeg, Robert Gist as Keefer

‘If you look back on high school as the happiest days of your life you got a big fucking problem.’ — Stephen King

I’m losing status at the high school

I used to think that it was my school…

I hear the secret whispers everywhere I go

My school spirit is at an all time low…

Thanks Frank, but I always lacked high school status.

My adventure with The Caine Mutiny began with a question on a blackboard left over from the previous hour’s English class.

“Who was the last captain of the Caine”?

And me, a sucker for a mystery. “Zounds Holmes, what do you make of it?

“Watson, you forget yourself”.

Yeah, there was a problem. The previous English class was an MGM assembly. Mentally Gifted Minors. Sort of a preMensa for the privileged, beautiful kids, the progeny of doctors, lawyers and engineers, in other words, soshes. 

I was not a MGM, no, I was in the English class with the Mentally Challenged Minors, aka Retards. I had been classed among the MCMs since the results of my IQ test were known.

Are you ready? Please act surprised. 87. It was bumped up to 89 because at 87 score would have sent to to the “special school”. The thinking was that if I remained with the ”normal,” 100 IQ and above kids, intelligence would just naturally rub off on me like bovine manure in a barnyard wrestling match.

The low score would continue to plague me through my high school and abbreviated JC career. When councilors asked my future employment plans and I would foolishly tell the truth, I was advised to explore the benefits of professional ditch digging, or automobile headlight adjusting.

Now, stuck in the senior English class I had read the assigned text, concerning one Dick and young Jane cavorting with Rex (“arf,arf”), in record time. As my fellow MCM scholars studied their comic books with the same intensity Jefferson employed when reading Montesquieu ( Tarantino fans: he was a French political philosopher) I ventured to answer the question. 

I approached the teacher of both MGM and MCM English classes with the request to read the book that was the source of the question.

The novel is titled The Caine Mutiny and is not in the MCM class syllabus.”

“None the less (oh lord of literature), I would like to read it. I love a mystery.”

“Why can’t you just read comic books like the other guys in class?”

As he was seated at his desk, I loomed over him with my massive frame and angerly whispered, “Just give me the damned book.”

I was directed to a cabinet at the rear of the classroom where I was to discover several copies of The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk. Years later I was to read Leon Uris’s novel Exodus about the birth of Israel, a novel with special relevance these days. Not a good novel, but informative. While in x-ray school I read Wouk’s Winds of War and its sequel War and Remembrance. Both were good novels and very informative, you know, history.

Finally , on the verge of discovery of the last captain’s identity, I began reading that evening and finished early the next morning. I was sleepwalking at school the next day but that was hardly unusual for me.

I had my answer: the last captain of the Caine was…you’ll have to wait. 

The movie was a fairly good adaptation, but the story ended, unlike the novel, shortly after the party right after the court martial, as the Caine is to be mothballed. The Captain who Queeg relieved, LT Commander De Vriess, not known for keeping his command shipshape in Bristol fashion, is returned to captain the Caine to the mothball fleet, after Queeg’s disgrace.

The main characters and the actors portraying them in the movie version are as follows:

Humphrey Bogart as LT Commander Philip Francis Queeg, Captain of the destroyer/minesweeper USS Caine.

José Ferrer as LT Barney Greenwald, a beached Naval aviator/attorney with limited trial experience who is assignment to defend Maryk’s action.

Van Johnson as LT Steve Maryk, XO A well meaning but easily influenced officer.

Fred MacMurray as LT Tom Keefer, a would-be novelist who goads Maryk into possible mutiny, while keeping his own skirts clean.

Robert Francis as ENS (later LTJG) Willis Seward “Willie” Keith, a wealthy snob, 90 day wonder.

The Caine is a Clemson-class destroyer/minesweeper, WWI era three-stacker.

Soon after Willie Keith is billeted aboard the Caine, the slovenly captain De Vriess, is relieved by Queeg. He insists on a by-the-book command, but is soon revealed to be a petty tyrant. He holds a Captains Mast over minor crew infractions, and launched a large investigation over strawberries missing from the officer’s mess. 

Maryk, at the urging of the pseudo-intellectual Lieutenant Keefer starts a psych journal documenting Queeg’s eccentricities, with a eye to using it to justify relieving the captain at some future date. Keefer is the prime mover in the push to question Queeg’s compliance to command. He is full of psychological diagnosis he doesn’t understand. The naive Maryk believes him.

While steaming with Task force 38 in the Philippine Sea, under the command of Admiral ”Bull” Halsey, Queeg’s true nature is reveled. The Task Force is hit by a cyclone and the Caine almost flounders when Queeg quietly panics. He is a coward.

Maryk relives Queeg under Navy regulation Section 184. Keith is present as Officer of the Deck and concurs with Maryk’s action.

Due to Maryk’s superior seamanship the Caine is saved, while several other ships in Task Force 38 are sunk or damaged by what is known as Halsey’s Typhoon.

Upon return to San Francisco, Maryk is tried by court-martial for “conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline” rather than mutiny, a hanging offense (in the 2023 production).

The movie is the only depiction of the circumstance that led to Queeg’s relief we actually see. It is simply described in the novel and in the most recent production directed by William Friedkin . The Robert Altman 1988 TV film is hampered by his ham-handed direction.

Cast in the Friedkin’s production

Kiefer Sutherland as Lt. Commander Queeg, Captain of the U.S.S. Caine

Jason Clarke as Lieutenant Greenwald, defense attorney

Jake Lacy as Lieutenant Maryk

Lewis Pullman as Lieutenant Keefer

Tom Riley as Lieutenant Keith

Lance Reddick as Captain Blakely, head judge

This version is cleverly updated to the present and the action of the typhoon is set in the Persian Gulf. Barney Greenwald as traded-in his F6F-5 Hellcat for a F/A-18 Hornet.

A note on LT Greenwald. Jason Clark is very good, but I favor José Ferrer ever since I saw him in Cyrano de Bergerac. Like Ronald Colman (unforgettable as Sidney Carlton in A Tale of Two Cities. ”It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”, Tony Johns In A Double Life, and Major Rassendyll and the “Prisoner of Zenda” (King Rudolf V) and Orson Welles, Ferrer had a melodious and distinctive voice.

One by one the witnesses stand before the bar of justice and give their accounts of the day Queeg was relieved. Maryk seems to have been guilty of premeditation evidenced by his psych journal. 

Keefer backs off any notion he agreed with Maryk, washing his hands of the whole sordid affaire. Savvy defense lawyer Barney Greenwald has him pegged as a soulless manipulator.

Bogart had a field day with Queeg’s breakdown on the stand. Chewing the scenery, playing with his ball barings, babbling about the great strawberry conspiracy, under Greenwald’s attack dog cross examination..

Kiefer Sutherland effectively played Queeg more subdued, and befuddled. 

Maryk is found not guilty. Queeg is assigned to a supply depot, never again to hold a blue water command. 

The play and both television productions end at a victory party for Maryk. A double celebration, as Keefer sold his war/antiNavy novel. All the Caine’s officers are soaking up free booze, Keith and Keefer included, Greenwald arrived three sheets to the wind, and tells the assembled officers he his disgusted with himself for what he did to Queeg on the stand.

He launches into a to speech similar Colonel Jessep,’s in A Few Good Men. The simple premise was the men like Queeg stood guard over the nation while men like Keefer, Willie Keith and even himself, followed safe, civilian lives.

Greenwald then denounces Keefer as the real “author” of he Caine mutiny and throws his drink in his face.

In the novel Maryk is given the humiliating assignment of commanding a LCI (Landing Craft Infantry). His career is over.

In the novel:

Keefer is given command of the Caine, with Keith (now a LT JG) as the XO. During the Okinawa campaign the Caine is struck by a kamikaze. Keefer panics just like Queeg had during the cyclone and orders the ship abandoned. Keith keeps a cool head and saves the Caine.

Keith receives the Bronze Star and is promoted Captain of the Caine. At the war’s end he takes her to Bayonne, New Jersey for decommissioning. 

Question answered.

However, I think Barney Greenwald was wrong. Queeg was an incompetent officer, a petty martinet, dishonest and cowardly. Commanding a supply depot was where he belonged if in the Navy at all. Had he remained in command during the cyclone, the Caine would have joined the mothball fleet in Davy Jones Locker.

The Caine Mutiny and the Court-Marital place in movie and theatrical history is secure, in spite of Robert Altman’s love affaire with the zoom lens.

The actors in the film and 2023 production are uniformly excellent. The 1954 film enjoyed a cast of movie stars and the audience expectations they brought to their parts. As Keefer, Fred MacMurray was the perfect villain. 

Status back, baby

Status back, baby

Status back, baby

Status back, baby






4 responses to “The Caine Mutiny: A Novel & Two Movies”

  1. Goat Avatar

    Great job, John. Thanks a lot for this classic.

  2. Don Avatar

    Fine writing as usual Mr. Goat!

    I believe the ship in the photo is a late-war ‘Fletcher’-class destroyer.

    Thank you for all of your work at ‘Ruthless’!


  3. Don Avatar

    ETA: apologies, I see it was John who wrote the review. Thank you John!

    1. JOHN welsh Avatar
      JOHN welsh

      Thank you, Don. A comment is a rare treat.

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